Avignon is the beating heart of Provence. It’s the capital of the Vaucluse department and a small city with a big presence. Find out what to see and do, what not to miss, where to eat and drink and more in our Avignon city guide …
Must-sees in Avignon
With its UNESCO listed architecture, and in a city full of must sees, one of the main attractions in Avignon is the monumental Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). The UNESCO listed former Papal home is incredible. With a majestic presence, it’s light stone walls reflect the sun and make it shimmer. Built in the 14th century, seven popes in succession ruled Christendom from here. It takes your breath away to visit both inside, where you’ll see magnificent frescoes, furnishings and lush décor, and outside where a walk around the soaring walls will impress. The Papal Palace hosts year round art exhibitions and concerts. From mid August to end September there’s a fabulous, must-see son et Lumière show. (Check at the tourist office for show times in English).
Number 2 on the must-see list has to be the famous Bridge of Avignon. You might know it from the well-known song “sous la Pont d’Avignon” about dancing on (or rather under) the bridge. To this day people do dance on the ruins of the ancient bridge though for selfies predominantly! The river crossing came about after, in 1177, a 12-year-old shepherd boy claimed divine voices told him the bridge needed building in Avignon.
The Old Town of Avignon
Avignon has one of the most pleasant old cities for strolling. Medieval and full of winding hilly streets and staircases within the ramparts. It’s perfect for ogling the gorgeous buildings, enjoying cobble stoned streets and for taking a break at a terraced café. Leafy squares, bright streets festooned with bunting and a stream with water wheels are just a few things that make this a beautiful city.
Head to the perched park of the Jardin des Doms next to the Palais des Popes. From this 30m high perch above the Rhone River, you’ll have fabulous views over the countryside and the bridge as well as to the Ile de Barthelasse, the largest river island in France. You won’t find details in most Avignon city guides, but there’s a tiny vineyard and a bar in the park, perfect for relaxing in the shade with a glass of wine or ice cream. If you want to visit the island, there’s a free boat shuttle. Pick up from near the Pont d’Avignon, take a picnic and enjoy the countryside air.
If you don’t have much time or it’s too hot to trot, simply hop on the little tourist train from outside the Palais des Papes. It’ll carry you round town taking in all the key sites and makes for a fun tour. Keep your cool with a cultural visit. The Collection Lambert museum has a collection of contemporary art and holds regular exhibitions.
Dining out in Avignon
This is a town that loves its food and there’s masses of choice for restaurants, bars and bistros. The Place de l’Horloge is a grand, vibrant square that’s popular with locals and tourists for its numerous restaurants. Or head off to one of the side roads or smaller squares like Places des Corps-Saints for the restaurants the locals love and visitors often don’t discover.
If you only have time for one glass of wine, enjoy it at the Carré du Palais on Place de l’Horloge. The former 18th century mansion, Hôtel Calvet de la Palun, has been converted to a restaurant and wine bar. But if it’s fine outside – head straight to the courtyard overlooking the Palais des Papes. It’s the perfect spot to relax and while away the hours.
Did you know pastis was invented in Avignon? The word comes from the Provencal “patisson” meaning mixture. What better place to enjoy the oh-so-French liqueur than in its place of birth!
Don’t miss the chance to visit Les Halles, the local covered market. Choc-a-block with regional products – from luscious olives to herbes de Provence, cheeses, charcurterie and bread, it’s the perfect place to stock up on gourmet goodies.